Lisa Bundrick

School Social Worker
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A “Disruptive Behavior” Plan
Practical remedies for eliminating disruptive behaviors in the classroom by developing and applying a customized behavior intervention program.
by Lisa Bundrick, LMSW
NYS Certified School Social Worker
New contributor to the Gazette
October 1, 2008

Student behavior can be challenging. This article contains sample behavior strategies to manage “disruptive behaviors.”

Understanding human behavior is a complex issue that is well beyond the scope of this article. Individuals with proper training in assessment and analysis should complete behavior assessments. One of the methods more commonly used in the school system to help assess “disruptive” student behavior is the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA).

The FBA is completed prior to the implementation of a formal behavior plan and includes a concrete description of the challenging behavior (what does “disruptive behavior” look like?), the frequency or duration of the behavior, its intensity, setting(s) where it occurs, times of day it occurs and people present when the behavior occurs. The FBA also includes the information on what triggers the behavior and the consequences of the behavior. Once this information is complied, a hypothesis (the best educated guess) is formulated as to why the student is engaging in the challenging behavior, and a behavior intervention plan is then created. A team of individuals who work with the student (parents, teachers, and other school staff) creates the FBA. In general, students engage in challenging behavior to get something or to get out of something. It is our job as educators to assess this. Completing a FBA is a long process, but is essential to understanding student behavior.

In general, students engage in challenging behavior to get something or to get out of something.

The definition of “disruptive behavior” varies depending on who is defining it. Through my experiences, I have found that behavior definitions can vary widely among individuals. The behavior strategies listed in this article are general ideas to help one create a customized behavior intervention plan to help with “disruptive behaviors,” after the FBA has been completed. This writer believes that it is a good practice to obtain parental consent prior to implementing any formal behavior intervention plan, so the parent can assist in reinforcing the messages that the school is teaching.

General Behavior Strategies:

  • Provide clear expectations and rules for behavior (verbally and visually) and refer to classroom rules often.
  • Provide student with a consistent daily routine that is visual and gone over verbally.
  • Verbally preset student for transitions.
  • Use a signal to demonstrate when transitions are coming (bell, whistle, hand gestures, flickering of the lights).
  • Seat student in a location with minimal distractions near a positive role model.
  • Prompt student with questions, such as “What are you supposed to be doing?” when off-task and wait for his/her response.
  • Create a token economy for appropriate behavior:
    • Set behavior goals for student.
    • Determine how many “tokens” student needs to earn to meet this goal (start with an easily attainable goal and gradually increase criteria for meeting the goal).
    • Determine a frequency schedule for dispensing “tokens” (minutes, periods, AM/PM, etc.).
    • Determine a frequency schedule (minutes, periods, AM/PM, etc.) for the student to trade “tokens” in for the chosen reinforcer/reward for demonstrating positive behavior and meeting the behavior goal.
  • Provide student with “reminder” cards. A card with a one or two word direction and picture regarding the steps necessary to complete tasks (ex. work quietly, follow directions, complete tasks, etc.). Ask the student to take out the card to show what s/he is supposed to be doing.
  • Teach the student to self-monitor his/her behavior by asking: “How do you think you did?” then explaining how you think s/he did, and coming up with a plan for improvement (if needed). Be positive when giving feedback and let the student know that you know s/he can do it.
  • Immediately reinforce (“Great job”, thumbs up, high five, etc.) all appropriate attempts at communication and other appropriate behaviors.
  • Offer alternative replacement behaviors in the form of limited choices that have outcomes acceptable to staff members.
  • Call the student by his/her name and establish eye contact before providing directions.
  • After giving directions to the entire class, privately approach and ask the student to repeat the directions to check for understanding.
  • Break assignments into smaller, more manageable parts.
  • Break down longer directions into smaller parts.
  • Provide consistent encouragement to acknowledge difficult tasks.
  • Model appropriate behaviors.
  • Role play challenging situations and appropriate actions.
  • Select activities that require active student response when teaching (white boards are great for this!).
  • Employ proximity control (stand or sit near the student before giving directions or engaging in discussion).
  • Praise on-task students frequently (verbal praise: “I like how ____ is _____.”)
  • Provide attention breaks: contract with the student for a short break each time s/he finishes a certain amount of work.
  • Communicate with parents. Be sure to communicate the good with the “bad”! Try to have three goods for each bad.

This article was designed to provide some general behavior intervention strategies and a brief overview of the Functional Behavior Assessment components. Do not be discouraged if the intervention(s) you select do not promote behavior change immediately. Behaviors may get worse before improving. Be consistent and follow your plan and continue to seek support from your colleagues and professional trainings.



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About Lisa Bundrick...

Lisa Bundrick has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University at Albany, State University of New York, a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Plattsburgh State University of New York and an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Adirondack Community College. She holds her New York State permanent certification as a School Social Worker for grades K-12 and her license in New York State as a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). Lisa also received a Certificate of Completion in Field Instruction for social work field instructors from the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Her career related experiences in the field of education include working with students and staff in charter and public schools as well as in a community college. As a school social worker, she works with students in individual, small group and classroom settings assisting them in developing skills and knowledge to enable their success in both academic and social settings.

In addition to her counseling experience, she has experience with crisis intervention, developing functional behavior assessments and behavior intervention plans, academic advisement, career planning, and cover letter and resume writing. She has also been the field instructor of an undergraduate and graduate social worker intern assisting them in developing beginning social work skills. She is currently employed as an elementary school social worker in a public school district.


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